Opinion: Lena Dunham deserves our sympathy. She also needs a reality check

Lena Dunham meets fans and signs copies of her book "Not That Kind of Girl" in London.
Lena Dunham meets fans and signs copies of her book “Not That Kind of Girl” in London.
(Stuart C. Wilson / Getty Images)
Guest blogger

Memo to Lena Dunham: If you don’t want people quoting from your book, don’t write the book.

The 28-year-old actress and writer is Very Upset that conservative outlets have been quoting passages from her bestselling book “Not That Kind of Girl” in which she describes some questionable experiences with her six-years-younger sister, Grace.

Dunham wrote, among other things, about plying her younger sister with candy so that she could kiss her on the lips, and on one occasion when Lena was 7 and Grace age 1, prying open the toddler’s vagina for inspection while the two were playing on the driveway of the family’s Long Island home. Dunham wrote that she tried “anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl.”


In an article last week for National Review that quoted extensively from Dunham’s memoir, Kevin D. Williamson called the incidents “very disturbing behavior that would be considered child abuse in many jurisdictions.” A few days later conservative site Truth Revolt also chimed in.

On Saturday, Dunham launched what she called a “rage spiral” on Twitter against her conservative critics. Her tweets included, “The right wing news story that I molested my little sister isn’t just LOL- it’s really ... upsetting and disgusting”; “And by the way, if you were a little kid and never looked at another little kid’s vagina, well, congrats to you”; and “I told a story about being a weird 7 year old. I bet you have some too, old men, that I’d rather not hear.”

Dunham’s fan base in the media leaped to her defense as well. Douglas Perry of the Oregonian speculated that the criticism was strategically timed “red meat for the social conservative voters -- stereotypically fueled by resentment -- who are needed to turn the U.S. Senate for the Republicans on Tuesday.”

Dunham’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Truth Revolt demanding that the site remove its post about her or face legal action.

Ben Shapiro’s response was essentially to tell Dunham and her lawyers what they could do with their cease-and-desist letter. He wrote:

“We refuse to withdraw our story or apologize for running it, because quoting a woman’s book does not constitute a ‘false’ story, even if she is a prominent actress and left-wing activist. Lena Dunham may not like our interpretation of her book, but unfortunately for her and her attorneys, she wrote that book – and the First Amendment covers a good deal of material she may not like.”

On the one hand, it is hard not to sympathize with Lena Dunham.

Seven-year-olds are naturally curious about their own and other children’s bodies. And anyone who has grown up with younger siblings has probably experienced the possessive love coupled with the itch to dominate and torment that Dunham bluntly describes in her memoir. Dunham -- if her book is accurate -- took all that a bit far, however. Most parents would have put a stop to her behavior, pointing out that it’s wrong to poke around the genitals of babies, and that other people have boundaries that ought to be respected. But Dunham’s parents, from her telling, weren’t “most parents.” They were arty progressives who seemed proud of their advanced attitudes concerning sexual matters. The paintings of her father, Carroll Dunham, feature a lot of nudity.

Perhaps Lena Dunham thought it would make a funny/transgressive story a la “Girls.” So she wrote it all down, playing it for laughs, outrageousness, pity for a psychopathic child or whatever. Perhaps now she regrets the oversharing and the embarrassment for her sister.

But she did write it. She really did compare herself to a “sexual predator” -- a term she has since apologized for using. And when you write a book, you own it. You alone are responsible for its contents. Even if you are the very famous Lena Dunham, and you fly into a rage because not everyone finds you as adorable as you think they ought to.

Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.

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